Mr. Rukeyser is a business consultant, lecturer, and writer of the nationally syndicated column, "Everybody’s Money."
The cold war with Iron Curtain countries puts traditional domestic issues into a fresh perspective. The wastes and peccadilloes, which are accepted with bemused tolerance in normal times, become dangerously unacceptable in interludes of crisis.
Thus routine demagoguery, to which the voting public may have long become acclimatized, may nowadays threaten our prospects for national survival. At a time when the United States and its free world allies are girding for heightened international competition, age long loose practices and moral shortcomings need to be reevaluated.
A free society is entitled to put its best foot forward. This calls for a popular determination to proceed on the basis of unadulterated knowledge and courage.
Accordingly, the "me too" political candidate, who exploits the philosophy of the blur instead of clarity, is—however unwittingly—weakening the fabric of the nation. In trying to be all things to all men, the political confusionist berefts the American system of its inherent superior values, which are based on safeguarding the free choices of the individual.
Even in less tense and critical times, the deviations from freedom and toward regimentation were inharmonious with the healthy functioning of our economic system. It was a monumental blunder to try to blend the economic slave doctrine of Karl Marx with the principles of a free society. Since the Bolshevists made socialism a dirty word, advocates of a trend toward collectivism try to make their program more palatable by the semantic trick of calling the new confusion a "mixed economy." There would be greater clarity in describing the admixture of freedom and regimentation as a "mixed up economy."
In this frame of reference, the slick candidate who blows hot and cold through the devious channels of me-too-ism, tends to impair the strength and essential value of a free-choice system. While freedom obviously entails even the right to be wrong, responsible statesmen try in an objective manner to permit an honest flow of information to citizens, on which intelligent decisions can be based.
Contrary to the cynicism of the dictators, a free society need not be an undisciplined one. On the contrary, the very genius of a well-run Republic depends on the capacity of the people to undertake self-discipline. The hidden internal enemies of self-discipline are the subtle political racketeers who temper truth-telling by their appraisal of the impact of their words on votes. Those who pull their intellectual punches and shrink from telling unpleasant truths, such as the fact that for every governmental benefit there is an offsetting cost, are sabotaging the nation.
The Whole Truth
A public officeholder does a disservice when he disseminates less than the whole truth. It is a crime against society, though a subtle and sometimes concealed one, when a public leader tells only as much of the realities as he assumes will boost his current Trendex popularity rating. Since a public office is a public trust, it is incumbent on the person in power to discharge his fiduciary function by full disclosure of the facts.
The assumption that fence-sitting, however deplorable from the standpoint of the well-being of the nation, is a sure-fire gimmick for continuing political success needs to be re-examined. Perhaps the analogy of investment finance can throw light on this matter. When the unsophisticated saver patronizes a blue-sky stock swindler, he does not do so with his eyes open. On the contrary, he is motivated by a desire to achieve "economic security" for himself and his family. He wouldn’t deal with a blue-sky operator if he weren’t under the delusion that the vendor was honest. Integrity is an indispensable asset in public and private affairs. The racketeer temporarily gets by only through creating the illusion of responsibility.
There have been inspiring examples in public life of men with the courage to avoid weasel words. The late Bob Taft of Ohio exemplified a type who valued integrity above applause. This trait was so deeply rooted that routine machine politicians frequently questioned the Senator’s savvy. It took courage of a high order for Taft to protest after the Nuremburg trials because Nazis had not been tried in accordance with what he deemed to be the principles of Anglo-Saxon justice. He criticized reliance on an ex post facto law. Again in 1950, in his last Senate race in Ohio, Taft braved the organized opposition of the CIO and AFL. Instead of pussyfooting, he said publicly what he believed privately, and he won by the largest plurality he ever achieved.
Likewise, the Democrat, Frank Lausche, proved himself a political "best seller." After holding the gubernatorial post for six terms in Ohio, he was elected to the Senate. He, too, is no trimmer. For example, when asked on a "Meet the Press" TV show what he thought of the "right to work" law, he didn’t dodge the issue. He was not afraid to speak his piece even though he knew it was contrary to the party line of numerically large pressure groups. He said succinctly: "I don’t think anyone’s right to earn a living should be contingent on membership in a lodge, club, labor union, or anything else." In the last election, Senator Barry Goldwater, Arizona Republican, thrilled the electorate by his plain talk on the same subject.
These instances of integrity in public life offer hope. Such personalities challenge the easy demagogic assumption that, in the scramble for votes, intelligent analysis of issues is interdicted. The gentle racketeer in politics, wanting to say only those things which net votes, exploits public naivete by dividing groups into the "good guys" and the "bad guys." Usually, in this frame of reference, the labor bosses fall into the "good guy" category, whereas anyone in the employ of a corporation is automatically a "bad guy."
Obviously, corporations, labor unions, voluntary clubs, and other human institutions are neither good nor bad per se. They are at best tools with which human beings work, and, irrespective of nomenclature, must be judged by an independent audit of their performance.
The crisis character of these times must bring greater awareness of the inherent defects in such loose thinking and feeling. For example, the Wall Street Journal, in commenting on a luminary now on the political scene, remarked: "Senator …………. leans toward him on the ground that he’d be a likely winner. His friends contend that he really isn’t as liberal as you think. He is basically pretty conservative but just had to act liberal to get elected."
If vendors of commercial products were equally cynical, they would be hauled before the Federal Trade Commission for false labeling. These critical times are crying out for more public servants who will echo Henry Clay’s words: "I would rather be right than president."
The difference between success and failure vis-a-vis militant Bolshevism may well inhere in public standards which will be intolerant of insincere compromise with economic illiteracy and political skullduggery.
Silencing the Opposition
Any putting forward of a false face in order to win votes is not only a degradation of morals but a slap at the two party system. If the two party system defaults on developing a loyal opposition based on honest debate, it tends to ape the spiritual aspects of totalitarianism. "Me-too-ism" is a type of rarefied poison which dilutes, if it does not nullify, the strength of the American system, which gives the citizen the right to select.
Such illicit striving for popularity based on suppression of honest controversy saps collective energy. Any weak-kneed trend toward uniformity deprives our society of the richness of trial and error and of an examination of alternatives. There should be a new public appreciation of the social utility of honest dissent. The processes of criticism and fair comment become meaningless forms if there is to be a moral lynching of anyone who deviates from the party line. Such outlawing of criticism freezes errors and accumulated maladjustments. This became apparent in fascist Italy after Mussolini fell. The fascist interdiction of criticism caused Italian society to rot and approach a state of collapse. On the other hand, if there had been unrestricted discussion and criticism, many of those blunders would have been uncovered earlier and corrected in time.
What indeed are we to think of the intestinal fortitude of a congressman who votes for a law to draft young men for the armed forces and who himself is so timid, so lacking in courage, that he fears to take an honest, forthright political position? It is a double standard indeed when he orders young men to risk their lives while he is unwilling to hazard the loss of a vote through common honesty.
Paul M. Butler, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, in a speech in New York before the Congress of Industry, appeared to be setting up the criterion that public discussion should be limited to remarks that win votes. It seems to me that the responsible candidate, in setting forth his views, also has an obligation to alert those opposed to his ideology to the nature of his views. This gives those intellectually opposed to him an opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to turn thumbs down on him.
Dangers of Mediocrity
Sometimes, it takes the perspective of history to determine the soundness of a man’s views. For example, in the Presidential campaign of 1936, former Governor Alfred M. Landon of Kansas bored the electorate and won support only in Maine and Vermont when he argued that the New Deal social and economic philosophy would cut the buying power of the dollar in half. Long after the event, there may be comfort for the defeated candidate in the bitter fact that the subsequent record revealed that he was indeed prophetic.
The issue of forthrightness in public affairs is as old as self-government. Back in 1888, the late Ambassador Bryce, in his AmericanCommonwealth, set forth the thesis of why machine bosses prefer mediocrities to first-rate men.
The Briton wrote: "Eminent men make more enemies, and give enemies more assailable points than obscure men do. They are therefore less desirable candidates. It is true that the eminent man has also made more friends,that his name is more widely known, and may be greeted with louder cheers. Other things being equal, the famous man is preferable, but other things are never equal. . . .
"The safe candidate may not draw in quite so many votes from the moderate men of the other side as the brilliant one would, but he will not lose nearly so many from his own ranks. Even those who will admit his mediocrity will vote straight when the moment for voting comes. He (the ordinary American) likes his candidates to be sensible, vigorous and, above all, what he calls ‘magnetic’ and does not value, because he sees no need for, originality or profundity, a fine culture or a wide knowledge. . . .
"Great men are not chosen president, first, because great men are rare in politics; secondly, because the method of choice does not bring them to the top; thirdly, because, they are not, in quiet times, absolutely needed."
But, alas in these days of frenzied cold war between slavery and freedom, these are not, in Bryce’s phrase, "quiet times."
In such periods, the trimmer, the fence sitter, and the confuser is indeed a fifth columnist.
Patriotism calls for a higher sense of responsibility in public life.